Dr. Donna Ryan, a world renowned obesity researcher, has been named interim executive director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Ryan, who serves as a professor emerita at Pennington, will replace Dr. William T. Cefalu. Cefalu announced earlier this month that he is leaving Pennington in February after nearly five years as executive director to become the chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association.

A search for a permanent executive director is continuing, officials said Thursday.

Ryan, a graduate of the LSU School of Medicine, was on the staff at Pennington from 1988 to 2012, serving as an associate professor, professor and finally as associate executive director for clinical research. She is now the president-elect of the World Obesity Federation and associate editor in chief of the scientific journals Obesity Research and Obesity.

“Pennington Biomedical is a long-treasured feather in the cap of LSU and the state of Louisiana,” Ryan said. “I know firsthand just how unique and special a place it is. The researchers at Pennington Biomedical and the science they produce has been trusted and relied on for nearly three decades to improve health and nutrition here at home and around the world.”

Ryan was instrumental in a number of landmark nutrition, diabetes, weight loss and military health research studies. She has been an author on more than 225 original publications, 11 books and nearly 50 scholarly chapters and reviews.

Bill Silvia, president and chief executive officer of the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation, said Ryan’s ties to the Baton Rouge research center are deep. Dr. George Bray, the first executive director at Pennington, mentored her obesity research.

“Her career has included work on some of the most influential research that has shaped the science. She also has a demonstrated interest in obesity education and mentoring young scientists, in particular, in training primary care physicians to incorporate obesity management into their medical practices,” Silvia said. “Her insight and guidance are sought the world over and we’re fortunate to have her back here at Pennington Biomedical during this important time.”

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